STUNG AT TRIBECA
THE CAST AND CREW OF STUNG AT THE TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL
A profile piece by Karen Benardello
Courageously battling your emotional and physical fears, particularly during a frightening and life-threatening situation, can be a daunting process. But the process is even more terrifying when you’re initially contending with building new personal and professional relationships in an unfamiliar work environment, and are suddenly forced to overcome unexpected conflict.
The main characters in the new horror comedy, Stung which had its World Premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, have to fight killer giant wasps to save their lives when they first begin working together. Several of the film’s key cast and crew, who made their feature film debuts on the horror comedy, including director Benni Diez, writer Adam Aresty and actress Jessica Cook, also successfully overcame struggles, particularly when creating the stunts and visual effects for the independent movie.
Stung will be released in theaters and on VOD on July 3 by IFC Midnight. It follows the wealthy Mrs. Perch (Eve Slatner), who has decided to once again host her annual garden party for the local elite. The party, which is held in honor of her late husband, who was a pharmaceutical magnate, is located at her remote country villa on her rural farmlands. The event’s food is being supplied by Julia (Cook), who has just taken over her late father’s catering business. She nervously heads to Mrs. Perch’s party, which serves as her first job with her new partner and bartender, Paul (Matt O’Leary).
While Mrs. Perch’s parties have gone well in the past, this year’s event proves to be much different. When her illegally imported plant fertilizer leaks into the ground, a local species of killer wasps unexpectedly mutates into seven-foot tall predators. When the giant wasps are unleashed on the unsuspecting party guests, Julia and Paul, who are trying to figure out their romantic feelings for each other, must band together to fight the mutant predators, in order to survive.
As their frightening ordeal carries on throughout the night, Julia and Paul are joined by a few other survivors, including Mrs. Perch’s eccentric son, Sydney (Clifton Collins Jr.), and Mayor Caruthers (Lance Henriksen). Once the survivors begin bonding together in their quest to live, they uncover the reasoning behind the mutations. At the same time, Julia and Paul begin to accept the fact that the sooner they get past their petty differences and learn to truly rely on each other, the faster the group can escape the estate and return to safety.
Diaez, Aresty, O’Leary and Cook generously took the time to sit down for an exclusive interview at New York City’s STK Downtown & Rooftop Restaurant on the day Stung had its World Premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. Among other things, the director and actors discussed how they were all immediately interested in working on the horror comedy after they received the script and spoke about the unique creature story with the writer, who based the plot on his own experience dealing with wasps when he worked as a caterer.
I also learned how the helmer and scribe wanted to create a very open atmosphere on the film’s set in Germany. No one would be afraid to contribute their own ideas as they were shooting. They both felt the actors could help enhance the characters and the story; and how they viewed premiering the movie at the Tribeca Film Festival was a blessing, especially after they spent a year perfecting the visual effects during the editing process.
KAREN: What was the process of all of you becoming involved in the making of Stung? How did the initial development of the horror comedy begin?
Adam Aresty (AA):
It started with the script that I wrote, which Benni got his hands on.
Benni Diaez (BD):
Yes, I told my manager, “Get me this guy on the phone. I love this script.”
It was actually over Skype, not the phone. (laughs) It was lovely that we got to see each other, and we hit it off. I wrote the script, and a lot of people told me it was too expensive and impossible to make. But Benni immediately said, “I know how to do this movie, theoretically.”
When I received the script and began talking to Adam, we did immediately know that we wanted to work together. After a while, some contacts of mine started working at good production companies. So I thought, why not send the script to them? I asked Adam if it was cool that I send it in, and he said of course, it hasn’t been sold yet. So month after month, we got more people together, and started shooting this promo teaser, which helped us finance the movie. Now we’re sitting here, which is crazy.
KAREN: Adam, what was the overall process of coming up with the idea, and writing the script, for the film?
The idea for the story came from real life, actually. I was working as a bartender and at a catering company, and went to this wealthy family’s house. I have this terrible fear of bees, and just want to run away from them. But the bar that we set up was right near this wasp’s nest. As I was stuck there, I was letting my imagination run wild. I was hating the people I was working for, so I was thinking, what would happen if some crazy mutant wasps flew in here and made this place hell on Earth?
Matt O’Leary (MO):
Needless to say, he basically scared himself.
AA: (after brief pause for group laughter at some of the answers)
I was trying to write my fears away, but it didn’t really help.
You just stood there in your uniform screaming because of your own idea.
(The group laughs again.)
I thought, this is brilliant! But I’m afraid! I imagined myself as the hero, but then Matt decided to play the hero.
KAREN: Speaking of playing the hero in the film, Matt and Jessica, what attracted you both to your respective characters?
I received the script early on-about nine months before Jessica signed on. When I got the script, I was going on this reading frenzy with my agency. They sent me Stung and I remember sitting down with it and thinking, this concept’s going to be fun. It’s about a bunch of bees killing people, all right.
They’re wasps. (laughs)
Oh, yes. Well, everyone makes that mistake, especially when they first got the script-they call it the bee movie.
When I first opened the script up, I couldn’t put it down. I called my agency and said, “I know this is weird, and I know none of you have read this script. (The group laughs.) But this is really good. How do I get the role?”
What they told me was that you guys (Diez and Aresty) were looking for a beefcake for the lead role, and were going to be communicating about who was going to get it. My agency also told me you guys already had someone else in mind, and I asked what he looked like. I also told them, “Get me a meeting with the director on Skype, and I’ll get the job.” So Benni and I spoke on Skype, and we were joking and having a blast.
Yes, we totally hit it off.
We did hit it off, so I thought, this will work out. I did get the role, and they told me to sit tight. I said, “Whenever you tell me to sit tight, the movie doesn’t get made.” But then about nine months later, I got a call from you (Diez), and you said (in the director’s accent): “We found her.” How did they find you?
Jessica Cook (JC) (laughs as she considers the question):
My agency gave me the script, and they submitted me for it. When I read it, I thought, this is going to be awesome. I liked that it was going to have LOTS of action.
We were looking for an actress like crazy. They sent in a lot of people’s resumes, and then we found Jessica. We saw a YouTube video she was in, in which she did something completely different. You were announcing a friend’s party. It was something weird, but funny.
Jessica had a quality that made me realize that she could be funny, but not in an artificial way. She was always the funniest person on the set. I saw that in the videos, because she was being herself. I thought that was way more important than any resume and list of movies she’s previously been in, and I was correct.
That’s definitely right. I remember our conversation about it, and this might be a little too honest. He told me that she’s a model, and hadn’t made any movies before. I said, “Okay…” But Benni said, “Just trust me-she’s hysterical.” I was like, “Alright man.” Then when we met, we just hit it off, and had nothing but jokes going on.
(cue group laughter again)
There were LOTS of jokes.
COME BACK TO MOVIE VIRAL NEXT WEEK FOR PART TWO OF THIS INTERVIEW.
The team talk more about the balance between scares and laughs and the perils of being a Director!
Karen Benardello is a freelance contributor with expertise in covering film events and reviewing content. She has worked with sites including The Movie Network. Follow her on Twitter: @kbenardello